January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
8 years ago

Obama says marijuana ‘no more dangerous than alcohol’

Washington (CNN) – Marijuana, which is still placed in the same category as heroin, ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms by the federal government, is no more dangerous than alcohol, President Barack Obama said in an interview published Sunday.

Speaking to New Yorker editor David Remnick, Obama said he still viewed pot smoking negatively – but that on the whole, the drug wasn’t the social ill that it’s been viewed as in the past.

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“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” Obama told the weekly magazine.

The president said pot was actually less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”

“It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy,” he said.

Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana use. Another 18, along with the District of Columbia, allow some legal pot use, primarily for medicinal purposes. But when it comes to federal law, marijuana remains a schedule 1 controlled substance - a drug with high potential for abuse but no accepted medical use - and the White House has said that Obama doesn’t support changing that status.

Instead, Obama said in the New Yorker interview that he’s focused on making laws that treat users fairly.

“We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing,” he told Remnick.

In August, Obama’s Justice Department announced it would not challenge legalization in Colorado and Washington, and instead focus federal enforcement on trafficking cases and preventing pot from getting in the hands of kids. Prosecutors are now required to focus on distinct enforcement priorities that also include preventing driving while high and forbidding the cultivation of marijuana on public lands.

In the New Yorker, Obama said Colorado and Washington’s laws were “important” since they decriminalized a commonly used substance. But he also said the laws could raise questions for other illegal substances.

“If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that?” Obama wondered. “If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?”

Filed under: Obama administration
soundoff (1,076 Responses)
  1. Phillp Bunn

    I bet Bill Clinton will be relieved to hear that.

    January 19, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  2. twalk

    @Jonas Quintela

    US will fall like Rome did.

    unfortuately that started in 2001.

    January 19, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  3. Freedom Fighter

    Who's against Cannabis Legalization? :
    – Private Prisons, a 1.5 BILLION $ industry will lose up to 30% of their "Customers."
    – Drug cartels, will lose cannabis sales forever.
    – Brewers and distilleries, are the biggest lobby against legalization. These alcoholic products KILL some 40,000 people per year in the USA.
    – Law enforcement, set to loose about 50% of all drug arrests to plain common sense.
    – Big pharma hates cannabis because it frequently works better than the products they sell and they cannot find a sure fire way to capitalize on cannabis.

    US CDC Figures directly from the CDC dot gov web site on numbers of deaths per year in the USA :
    Prescription Drugs: 237,485
    Tobacco: 81,323
    Alcohol: 39,199
    Marijuana 0, none, not a single death in all medical history
    Cited direct from CDC dot gov. Stop the lies and Legalize!

    January 19, 2014 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  4. chris

    @gregory your argument doesnt hold much weight because you using statistic for alchohol induced crashes inwhich they found other drusg in the persons system,, guess what,, even if that person smoked a joint or for that matter did a line of cocaine over 12 hours earlier they will still test positive due to how drugs and especially cannabis stays in someones system. Even though after 12 hours they would no longer be under the effects of ANY drug, except for the rare exception of a few long lasting drugs like heavy doses of LSD or even some of the designer drugs which have been known to produce effects lasting over 10 hours (even with a normal dose).. Alcohol on the other hand can be tested with immediate results all while determining the levels at which it is still present and active, there simply is no feasible test out now that can prove whether someone is "stoned", besides maybe the munchies test.. ie. just wave an irresistible stoner snack under their nose, if they cant resist the urge they are probably stoned,, LOL (granted its not foolproof as you might innocently arrest some fatties)

    January 19, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  5. vivian

    The fear based rhetoric here is amusing. Marijuana has never killed a single person from overdose or toxic reaction. It is so safe that prohibitionists have tried to connect pot to dangerous drugs with the stupid "gateway theory" even though they fail to associate alcohol and tobacco with that effect, the real gateway drugs.

    We are a steam roller. We are winning. Get ready for a sea change in public policy. We are tired of being treated as criminals by people who swill alcohol and puff tobacco. We are tired of being persecuted in the "land of the free".

    A human being should be judged by the quality of their character, by their deeds, by their mind and heart. Not by how they choose to relax when harming nobody. That is not the America we were taught about in school. America is supposed to be better than merely standing for corporate profits, prisons, and fake reality TV shows.

    Change is coming. But the change will not be that great, pot is in every city and town in abundance right now, it is being consumed everywhere today. Get used to it, it is not going to go away, but justice, liberty, and freedom are on the march! Legalize it!

    January 19, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  6. joey

    I'm as conservative as the next guy but some of these comments only make us look like a bunch of uneducated freaks. It's OK to complain when Obama does something or says something that is wrong, but this issue isn't even up for debate. Marijuana is thousands of times safer than alcohol or tobacco. We can't continue to pretend marijuana prohibition is sane policy, younger voters have no stomach for that kind of nonsense. Marijuana use isn't a crime, it's time our laws reflect that simple reality.

    January 19, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  7. puddintane

    Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, according to the Bossman

    January 19, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  8. McBob79

    Is he still around?

    January 19, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  9. MontanaTrace

    All this legal pot smoking and yet, not that many years ago, Montanan's were jailed for medical marijuana. Even the landlords that rented out offices for what the State voted in as legal medical marijuana, were put in prison. BS!

    It was the Fed's position, even if States legalized pot, it was still a felony. Many are still incarcerated. BS!

    January 19, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  10. rod

    Hard to believe it took 5 years for him to utter anything useful. Even those who dont partake agree. Legalize, tax at 50 percent, send half to our schools, use the other half to war real drugs. Let the government oversee, make those who commit crime and test positive for mj pay penalties 5times more than normal. Defund cartels, whats not to like. Stop the discrimination against peaceful hardworking individuals who support this country!

    January 19, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  11. Ganesh_India

    Yeah they're both dangerous, what's your point?

    January 19, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  12. Richard Right

    Well Mr President that should make mothers against drunk driving feel better. 10% of our population are alcoholics, so I'm thinking another 10% addicted to once illegal drug is ok with you. I think I read 60% of auto deaths are alcohol related== 24,000 deaths, so I guess another 24,000 is ok with you. You need to leave office.

    January 19, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  13. gstlab3

    that poster "twalk" has it all most right.,
    It was all over in 1865.,
    The States and the individual lost the right to self determination including the right to own propertyt.,
    soon after we got income and property taxes.
    Now we do not even have the right to determine our own health care.

    January 19, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  14. Nena

    With the right implementation of decriminaliztion a normal, responsible adult user poses no threat to society. Drunk drivers and alcohol consumption as whole has far more detrimental effects on society. As a former bartender I can tell you that people under the influence of alcohol are far more troublesome and prone to violence than pot users are. Taxing pot consumption is a fine way to collect revenue. Earmarking pot consumption tax revenue for specific areas of state budgets would make great sense. There are so many governors out there all gung ho about expanding medicaid yet have no clue how burdensome that will be down the road. That obligation once committed to needs a funding source because the feds will not fund it 100% forever and a lot of state legislators have no idea the ginormous cost medicaid expansion will be. So use pot consumption tax revenues to offset those costs. I personally would rather work in a pot cafe and serve a menu of ganja over booze any day.

    January 19, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  15. golemmingsgo2013

    This country spends 60 billion on the war on drugs and of that we spend 40 billon to fight pot i would like to see how much every sheriffs dept gets in this country lets face it health insurence will never pay for pot i do agree that moderation is the key any thing in exces is not good for anybody

    January 19, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  16. Feuhorbe

    “If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that?” Obama wondered. “If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?”


    January 19, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  17. LibertyIsMyReligion

    It amazes me how those on the Right call out those on the Left for eschewing Personal Responsibility and perpetuating the Nanny State in it's place. Then they do the exact same thing regarding a God-given, natural plant. What is it that gives you the authority to eradicate this amazingly useful gift from our Creator? And what is it about the concept of Liberty that you despise so much? Legal or illegal, people have, and will, always look for ways to alter consciousness whether it's thru chanting, prayer, music, movies, alcohol, or MJ. There is nothing wrong or immoral about it. Our bodies are our own and are sovereign. Prohibition is immoral because it has immoral results and is caustic to society. The bodies are stacked like cordwood.

    January 19, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  18. MT

    "Ain't" it great knowing the man with his finger on the nuke button was/is a doper? LOL

    January 19, 2014 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  19. Jim

    It is wonderful that the President is on board with legalization of marijuana. However, states should follow the guidelines that Colorado has in place to regulate legal sales of marijuana. I don't smoke marijuana but do have problems with it being illegal as it is a major waste of taxpayers money on police and other enforcement agencies. It can be a major source of tax revenue and help reduce the number of people in prison if it were legal.

    January 19, 2014 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  20. Dan

    Jonas Quintela

    "US will fall like Rome did"

    Yes, all because of smoking grass. How much do you actually know of Rome? How long are empires supposed to last, in your eyes? What other comparisons can you make between this country and an empire that has not been around since the 1400's? Are you using broad strokes; or are you one of the five people in the comments section that knows how to think critically? You can keep your antiques; however, don't complain when the world marches on.

    January 19, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  21. pete

    Ironic there were 420 comments on this article

    January 19, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  22. Name

    It's Time To Take A Mature Look At Pot Smokers In America And Not Assume Everyone Who Smokes It Is A Bad Person. Many Users Actually Live Quite Well And Are Responsible Tax Payers And Contribute To Society.

    January 19, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  23. knowa

    I think its is time for a congressional investigation into a history of blocking legitimate research. When consider the La Guardia Committee and Nixon's own commissioned Shaffer report both with scientific evidence that Nixon refused and trashed in his vendetta against the counter culture CNN
    On August 14, 1970, the Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Roger O. Egeberg wrote a letter recommending the plant, marijuana, be classified as a schedule 1 substance, and it has remained that way for nearly 45 years. My research started with a careful reading of that decades old letter. What I found was unsettling. Egeberg had carefully chosen his words:
    "Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule 1 at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue."
    Not because of sound science, but because of its absence, marijuana was classified as a schedule 1 substance. Again, the year was 1970. Egeberg mentions studies that are underway, but many were never completed. As my investigation continued, however, I realized Egeberg did in fact have important research already available to him, some of it from more than 25 years earlier

    January 19, 2014 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  24. AP

    @ indynj yeah its stronger but you don't have to smoke a hole joint. You can just take a hit and hey buzzed.

    January 19, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  25. longhauler

    In my life time we have probably spent 500 billion fighting it and it is more widely available and more widely used than everand having tried it when I was young I would have to say hes right

    January 19, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
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